St. Catherine of Siena
The other day, I baked chocolate chip cookies for my kids, and didn’t eat a one. I then decided to forgo my usual afternoon cup of tea. Insert personal pity party right here. Earlier in the week, I had bought them a couple of chocolate milkshakes, and completely forgetting that I gave up chocolate for Lent, I took a sip, upon noticing Anders wasn't going to come close to finishing his, then remembered and had to watch them drink their shakes while I drank water. I threw a tiny pity party in my head again as I threw the leftovers away, but I sat down with a good book, and I felt a flooding of relief and peace coming from nowhere. Who eats their kids' leftover milkshakes, anyway? I wondered to myself.
I’m finally doing some spiritual reading, and the book Catherine of Siena, by Sigrid Undset, mingled with the deep conviction that observing Lent is so important to me, and I love it for my family, is giving me deep joy. Even though the momentary sacrifice feels painful, the overall vibe in our home is so much better. Without TV, chocolate, and the social media apps on my iPhone, you'll find me with a good, big book, and a lot of extra time. Here are just a few good more things about Lent, because there are actually good things - a lot of salubrious things- about Lent (besides the fact that it is followed by Easter, of course).
- We are saving money (candy, beer, chocolate, etc) and clearing our heads.
I’m excited about saving those things for our Easter celebratory dinner. We are finding balance, and there is less of that feeling that the screen- and other things- control our lives, and our thoughts. Our life is simpler during Lent. Our cravings aren't wearing on our bank accounts. Move over My Little Pony songs that get stuck in our heads. It feels good to have a head clear of TV music. Ah, the perpetual fight against humming the Calliou song in my head.
- We are putting into practice self-control, self-denial, and other stuff like that.
Funny story to show you we aren’t perfect. My youngest daughter was begging me to take her to her Grammy’s house. I finally asked, “Why, sweetie?” She said, “Because we can watch TV at Grammy’s house.” So I said, “Well we do a lot of fun things here, right?” and she said, “We watch TV at Grammy’s, and we play (iPad) games here.” Ha. I can laugh, because they never beg for shows like they used to; they know now. And truthfully, our whole family is learning so much through this Lenten penance. They're catching on and getting better at things like interdependence and unity. And on the bright side, Molly helps the others play iPad games, and it is so sweet to watch them interact and learn how to take turns.
- We are more prepared for Easter.
We are leaning on each other for support. Our spiritual lives are enriched by “sacrifice” and “suffering.” Although our sacrifices and sufferings feel very minimal compared to the saints, or those who suffer in war or from disease, or my sweet Nana who suffers from chronic bronchitis, and as I suffer temporarily, I put my energy into other things, and find grace from God and rich rewards for my small sacrifices. And if they're looking at me as the shining example, just know: I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes and given into little sugar cravings here and there. But I’m not mad. I put some forethought into this, and I feel like I have a good routine a good balance, and we are on the route to success even when a sip of milkshake tastes really good.
- We're doing other things.
My oldest daughter Molly said, "Mom, why did we have to give up TV for Lent?" And I said, "Because, we are learning that there are so many other things that we can do besides watch TV. Can you think of things you like to do now that you can't watch TV?" She said, "Play outside." And her little sister Frances said, "Play with Molly," and Molly said, "And go to school." Ha. But really, I've seen improvement in their overall behavior, and willingness to "jump to it," when it's time to have fun - the kind of fun that has nothing to do with a screen.
It is a comforting thought that not only is St. Catherine of Siena praying for us when we ask her to, but perhaps while I read her biography, she is praying for me even when I don't ask. She's thinking about me. What joy! What consolation! Come, Lord Jesus. Even so, Lord quickly come.
I have to say, after reading this and the works of Teresa of Avila, and now, reading this story of St. Catherine, I was left feeling so empty, so worthless in comparison. What are we to make of this story of intense faith? Here is a woman who would levitate while praying. Here is a woman who came out unscathed by fire. Here is a woman who could go out in the cold, but not feel it. It is strange to say we can envy the saints. That sort of jealousy- the kind of comparison that leaves us feeling empty- is not God’s will for us. The sort of worry that makes us wonder if we should experience ecstasy or visions from God might actually hinder us from becoming wholly ourselves; wholly who he has meant for us to be, and thus, Holy in his eyes. He created us, with our own personal desire and joys. He even created this beautiful, although fallen world, with all of the art, and music, and churches, and friends. If we delight ourselves in him, he will give us the deepest desires of our hearts. He knows us. He knows that we are weak, he knows us because he created us and he created our very families!
How are we to apply it to ourselves? It is easy to think SAINT and assume it must be meant for us. But what does God want for us, for our souls, in the here and now? Does he want each one of us to all become like the great Catholic saints, St. Catherine of Siena or St. Teresa of Avila? Should we pray for the same gifts of the spirit? I don’t know. I do know that I believe the Holy Spirit can guide our hearts, in a deeply personal and even dare I say it, intimate way, and I think that our conscience should be a guiding light. Even Catherine Benincasa's father, a good man whose soul went straight to heaven because of his daughters’ prayers for him, wasn’t a saint. Undset says he had small, petty, albeit, real sins when he died. But he was a holy, devout man. Should we all assume that God has meant for us to become saints like this? Or should some of us strive simply to be Holy inasmuch as we can control, and leave the rest to God?
I think the most important thing, when we compare ourselves to the saints, or worry that we're not more like them, or worry that we need to start having visions or similar gifts of the Spirit, is to remember that Holiness takes time. Remember that we should pray and ask God to transform and change us, that someday we may be made like him. This is not to be seen as an excuse, but rather an honest look at the process of sanctification. It would be easy to say, "Not today Lord. I'll give up this little thing or do that certain penance next year." That's not what I'm talking about. Don't separate yourself from the saints because You'll Never Be Like That. But don't put a certain person on a pedestal, because if reverence moves away from reverence and become idolatry, then girl, we have a mess on our hands.
So, when we're having a hard time keeping Lent, should we toss in the towel? No! I don't think so. It's not the chocolate that is going to make us happier. But neither should we go it alone, without prayer, the help of the saints, and our spiritual readings.
We should do what we can in this day of evil. What is even more important that sacrifice? God desires that we obey, and his word says it is better than sacrifice. When someone cuts us off on the road, we need to obey the command to "love your neighbor as yourself," and we should try to see them with the eyes of God…. because perhaps they only did it because the sun was shining right into their eyes, causing them danger. You never know. We should “give them our cloak, too” and “turn the other cheek to them,” and be patient with them. We should love our neighbor sacrificially. Perhaps our neighbor is suffering from Depression, you never know.
And you know, these things have nothing to do with Lent. Sorry. They do, but it's bigger than Lent. That's the kind of thing we're supposed to do all the time... year-round. Perhaps this is God’s will for us, over saint-envy. We should seek to love others- to try not to assume we know the state of others’ souls- but to mortify our own flesh, pray for the forgiveness of our sins, and plead with God Almighty for grace in the here and now. And seek peace and the prayers of the saints, seeking ever and always to become more wholly ourselves, and more holy in God’s eyes.
St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!
I'm cross-posting at the Association of Catholic Women Bloggers today.